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Korean crisis: Hotheads on the brink

August 12. 2017 6:34PM

Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. (KCNA via Reuters)

"Fire and fury."

"Locked and loaded."

These are not the carefully measured words of international diplomacy. But President Donald Trump's intemperate rhetoric is not the problem.

North Korea's race to build a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States is the problem.

Nor would it be particularly productive to dwell on the gross incompetence of the Clinton administration, which agreed to a failed framework to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Neither President Bush nor President Obama could keep North Korea from improving its warheads and its missiles, while allowing its people to starve.

U.S. intelligence officials believe unhinged dictator Kim Jong-Un now has a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile, and Kim has threatened to launch test missiles 2,100 miles toward the U.S. territory of Guam.

Trump's bellicose responses last week, in a public statement and over Twitter, certainly didn't calm the waters. But they are not to blame for the crisis.

It's hard to imagine President Kennedy tweeting at the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That episode of nuclear brinkmanship convinced both superpowers to set up direct lines of communication.

Trump and Kim are communicating through public bluster, and private back-channels.

For three generations, the Kim family has deployed irrationality as a weapon. North Korea can not win either a conventional or a nuclear war. But it can wipe out large portions of Seoul in the opening minutes of any armed conflict. North Korea pushes the envelope, extorts as much foreign aid as it can, and backs down just short of war.

The Korean crisis is Trump's first true test as commander in chief. He needs to be more disciplined in his public statements. He needs to get off Twitter. But resolving the crisis peacefully will have to happen behind the scenes.

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